Fact check: Inhaling hydrogen peroxide for COVID-19 is dangerous, experts warn

·5 min read

The claim: Inhaling hydrogen peroxide through a nebulizer will treat COVID-19

Since the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, vaccine skeptics have promoted a growing number of unproven at-home remedies to treat and prevent infection with the virus. Add hydrogen peroxide to that list.

Some social media users claim inhaling hydrogen peroxide through a nebulizer, a device used to administer medicine in a mist, can prevent or cure COVID-19.

“0.5% Hydrogen Peroxide Inhalation Therapy kills viruses, bacteria, pathogens in the sinuses, throat and lungs,” reads the caption of a Sept. 23 Facebook video, which accumulated more than 300 views within a couple of days. “Just fill the nebulizer cup with 7ml of saline solution or water and 1ml 3% hydrogen peroxide.”

The video, shared by the Facebook page Hydrogen Peroxide Nebulization, shows a toddler inhaling hydrogen peroxide. The page claimed the method is an “effective safe treatment with zero side effects.”

Similar claims have circulated on Facebook in recent weeks. On Sept. 16, Becky Campbell, who describes herself as a “doctor of natural medicine who practices functional medicine,” claimed hydrogen peroxide in a nebulizer can “help your body to fight off pathogens systemically and can be very effective.” (Campbell, who sais her post was not medical advice, listed other debunked treatments for COVID-19.)

But hydrogen peroxide is not a proven treatment for COVID-19. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America and health experts have warned that inhaling hydrogen peroxide can damage the lungs.

“Nebulized hydrogen peroxide is not effective for COVID-19 and is potentially dangerous,” Dr. Taison Bell, director of the University of Virginia Health's medical intensive care unit, said via email. “If you want to protect yourself, get vaccinated.”

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USA TODAY reached out to the Facebook page and Campbell for comment.

Health organizations warn against dangerous trend

Hydrogen peroxide is often used to treat minor cuts and burns, and it can kill COVID-19 on surfaces. But health experts say inhaling the antiseptic can have serious consequences.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America wrote in a Sept. 21 blog post that inhaling hydrogen peroxide in an attempt to treat COVID-19 is “concerning and dangerous.”

“DO NOT put hydrogen peroxide into your nebulizer and breathe it in. This is dangerous!” the foundation wrote. “It is not a way to prevent nor treat COVID-19.”

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The Agency for Toxic Substances and Registry says inhalation of household-strength hydrogen peroxide can cause respiratory irritation. Ingestion can cause vomiting and stomach irritation.

Doctors say inhaling hydrogen peroxide can cause harm

Health care providers commonly use hydrogen peroxide as a disinfectant in hospitals, where it is "extremely well-regulated," according to Dr. Gregory Schrank, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. But inhaling it is dangerous.

"The concern for using it in a nebulized form is severe irritation to the airways with a lot of additional inflammation," Schrank said. "If they're infected with COVID, this can really really exacerbate it and cause severe harm."

Schrank said that in the worst-case scenario, inhaling the antiseptic can cause pneumonitis. The condition causes the lungs to become inflamed and irritated, preventing oxygen from moving into the bloodstream.

Other experts have warned about possible severe lung complications from inhaling hydrogen peroxide.

Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said that "if people are doing this instead of going to seek medical attention, it could potentially worsen things" in the lungs of COVID-19 patients.

USA TODAY could find no reputable studies that have concluded hydrogen peroxide is effective and safe for treating COVID-19.

A 2012 study in Toxicological Reviews found "inhalation of highly concentrated solutions of hydrogen peroxide can cause severe irritation and inflammation of mucous membranes, with coughing and dyspnoea." Hydrogen peroxide is not listed as an approved treatment by the Food and Drug Administration or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Schrank said there are a limited number of known medical therapies for treating COVID-19, such as steroids and monoclonal antibodies, "which are at this point in time pretty broadly accessible across the United States."

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that inhaling hydrogen peroxide through a nebulizer will treat COVID-19. Health organizations and experts say inhaling hydrogen peroxide is dangerous and can harm the lungs. Public health agencies have not listed it as a recommended treatment. No controlled clinical trials have demonstrated that inhaling hydrogen peroxide will prevent or treat COVID-19.

Our fact-check sources:

Contributing: Jordan Mendoza

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Inhaling hydrogen peroxide for COVID-19 is dangerous

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